Treating Bell’s Palsy with acupuncture

Bell’s Palsy is a kind of Facial Paralysis that is happen to people who are otherwise healthy but with inflamed facial nerve. The damaged facial nerve causes weakness or paralysis of facial muscle. The most noticeable symptoms is the facial dropping of one side of the face. You can read more about Western Medicine point of view on Bell’s Palsy at the end of this post.

Here is how Bell’s Palsy is described in “Acupuncture: A Comprehensive Text” (CAM) from Shanghai College of Traditional Medicine translated and edited by John O’Connor and Dan Bensky.

“Chinese medicine ascribes this condition to Wind and Cold of external origin which invade the channels traversing the face and disrupt the flow of Qi and Blood, preventing the vessels and muscles from receiving the necessary moistening and nourishment.
Treatment is directed toward spreading the Qi through the channels of the face.”

This spring, I have encountered more patients with Bell’s Palsy than the past two years combine. Personally, I believe that it is due to the extra snowy, cold and long winter. In Traditional Chinese Medicine point of view, spring is the season of wind, and winter is the season of cold. The extra long and cold winter creates the environment of wind and cold when the spring arrives. It might be interesting if we can see the number of Bell’s Palsy cases geographically across the US over the past five months.

Acupuncture is relatively effective in treating Bell’s Palsy. From my experience, the earlier the treatment starts, the more effective it is. And of course, to speed up the recovery, combination of massage, heat treatment, or Chinese and Western medication with acupuncture is a highly recommended.

According to CAM, external Wind and Cold is the cause of Bell’s Palsy, so let’s look at the characteristics of Wind and Cold to understand how the facial paralysis happens.

So, what is Wind? Here is a link to where you can read a lot about Wind in Traditional Chinese Medicine, but let’s put those theories aside to just simply understand Wind in nature. Wind is simply the movement of air cause by the differences in air pressure between two or more areas. Wind also happens when there are differences between temperature of two areas. We can consider wind as the movement of energy. During the spring season as the earth is warming up, it creates a situation where the air near the ground is warmer and the air in the air is still cold. This generates a upward motion wind. This is also the reason that people sometimes associate kite flying with spring.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, wind is one of the six evils in the environment that can enters our body when our defense is not up. There are various kind of effects from the wind to our body. The most common ones are mostly involved with tremor or unintentional muscle movement. Cold is also one of the six evils in the environment. Cold has the nature of slow down the movement of the effected area, it also has the nature of making things hard (for example: water turn into ice, muscle tighten up, and etc.).

This year, due to the excess snow, the ground is still cold when the season is already changing, so it creates the perfect environment to add extra coldness in the wind. Because the upper motion of the wind, the effect area of the cold wind is most commonly behind our head and neck. Here is how Bell’s Palsy happens. (My theory) When our body’s defense system is working fully, this invasion of cold wind will disappeared quickly. Sometimes, we just feel coming down with something, but in few hours, all is well. However, when our defense system isn’t doing a good job, the wind and coldness will linger longer. Let’s imagine having a windy cold storm in our body. It is similar to storm in real life, sometimes it knocks a few electric poles over and causing an larger area without power. When this happens in behind our neck and behind our head, the facial nerves are effected, and part of the face would be paralysis.

What acupuncture does is to bring more blood flow locally and help our body to restore its order. In other words, acupuncture treatments helps the body to speed up the process of fixing the electric poles and cleans the streets afterward.

Now, let’s get to how the treatment plan would look like at my practice. For most cases, I ask my patients to come at least 3 times a week for the first one or two week. As the recovery goes, the number of treatment will be reduced to once or twice a week. By that time, the facial paralysis is not hardly noticeable, but there might still be some functional issue such as food get stuck in the cheeks because the muscle is still weak to push food back during chewing. Over my past experiences, if the patient follows all the instructions, the patient can normally be recovered in about 10 treatments. Some even recovered within 5 or 6 treatments. I usually ask the patient to come for additional 2 to 3 treatments just to make sure that body is back to a good balance and able to maintain the balance.

Below is information about Bell’s Palsy from National Institutes of Health website. You can follow this link to the original article.

Bell’s palsy

Bell’s palsy is a disorder of the nerve that controls movement of the muscles in the face. This nerve is called the facial or seventh cranial nerve.

Damage to this nerve causes weakness or paralysis of these muscles. Paralysis means that you cannot use the muscles at all.

Causes

Bell’s palsy affects about 30,000 to 40,000 people a year in the United States.

It involves damage to the seventh cranial (facial) nerve. This nerve controls the movement of the muscles of the face.

Bell’s palsy is thought to be due to swelling (inflammation) of this nerve in the area where it travels through the bones of the skull.

The cause is often not clear. A type of herpes infection called herpes zoster might be involved. Other conditions that may cause Bell’s palsy include:

Having diabetes and being pregnant may increase the risk of Bell’s palsy.

Symptoms

Sometimes you may have a cold shortly before the symptoms of Bell’s palsy begin.

Symptoms most often start suddenly, but may take 2 to 3 days to show up. They do not become more severe after that.

Symptoms are almost always on one side of the face only. They may range from mild to severe.

Many patients feel discomfort behind the ear before weakness is noticed. The face will feel stiff or pulled to one side, and may look different. Other symptoms can include:

  • Difficulty closing one eye
  • Difficulty eating and drinking; food falls out of one side of the mouth
  • Drooling due to lack of control over the muscles of the face
  • Drooping of the face, such as the eyelid or corner of the mouth
  • Problems smiling, grimacing, or making facial expressions
  • Twitching or weakness of the muscles in the face

Other symptoms that may occur:

  • Dry eye, which may lead to eye sores or infections
  • Dry mouth
  • Headache
  • Loss of sense of taste
  • Sound that is louder in one ear (hyperacusis)
  • Twitching in face

Exams and Tests

Often, Bell’s palsy can be diagnosed just by taking a health history and doing a complete physical exam.

Blood tests will be done to look for medical problems such as Lyme disease, which may cause Bell’s palsy.

If your health care provider is worried that a brain tumor is causing your symptoms, you may need:

Sometimes, you will need a test to check the nerves that supply the muscles of your face:

Treatment

Often, no treatment is needed. Symptoms often begin to improve right away. However, it may take weeks or even months for the muscles to get stronger, and this may be frustrating.

Your health care provider may give you lubricating eye drops or eye ointments to keep the surface of the eye moist if you cannot close it completely. You may need to wear an eye patch while you sleep.

Sometimes medicines may be used, but it is not clear how much they help. If medicines are used, they should be started right away.

  • Corticosteroids may reduce swelling around the facial nerve
  • Medications can fight the virus that may be causing Bell’s palsy

Surgery to relieve pressure on the nerve (decompression surgery) has not been shown to benefit most people with Bell’s palsy.

If you have problems closing your eye, you need to protect it from injury. Ask your doctor for tips.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Most cases go away completely within a few weeks to months.

If you did not lose all of your nerve function and symptoms began to improve within 3 weeks, you are more likely to regain all or most of the strength in your facial muscles.

Sometimes, the following symptoms may still be present:

  • Long-term changes in taste
  • Spasms of muscles or eyelids
  • Weakness that remains in facial muscles

Possible Complications

The eye surface may become dry, leading to eye sores, infections, and vision loss.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider right away if your face droops or you have other symptoms of Bell’s palsy. Your health care provider can rule out other, more serious conditions, such as stroke.

Prevention

There is no known way to prevent Bell’s palsy.

Alternative Names

Facial palsy; Idiopathic peripheral facial palsy; Cranial mononeuropathy

References

Baugh RF, Basura GJ, Ishii LE, et al., American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery. Clinical practice guideline: Bell’s palsy.Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery.

Gronseth GS, Paduga R. Evidence-based guideline update: Steroids and antivirals for Bell palsy.Neurology.

McAllister K, Walker D, Donnan PT, Swan I. Surgical interventions for the early management of Bell’s palsy. Cochrane Database Syst Rev

Update Date 5/20/2014

Updated by: Joseph V. Campellone, M.D., Division of Neurology, Cooper University Hospital, Camden, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

4 Comments on “Treating Bell’s Palsy with acupuncture

    • Well, I don’t know much about the situation at umdnj hospital. The only thing that I can say is good luck!

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